How medical alert systems work
exist retire, older Americans may face challenges such as living on a regular income and facing unexpected medical bills. But older adults face more than just personal financial issues. Older Americans may also have new medical problems, especially when living alone.
In medical emergencies, from heart problems to broken bones, you may not always be able to get help on your own. Your phone may not be within reach, and you may not be able to quickly find someone who can help. Or, you may become incapacitated and need someone to call emergency medical services.
That’s why many older Americans are turning to medical alert systems. More formally known as Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), these systems help people — especially older adults — get in touch with emergency medical services at the push of a button.
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If you’d like to learn more about it first, below we’ll take a detailed look at what a medical alert system is and how they work.
What is a medical alert system?
A medical alert system is a set of communication technologies and support services that work together to help people access life-saving care.
Typically, medical alert systems include wearable devices with buttons. Or the button could be a wall mount. At the push of these buttons, users can quickly get in touch with a call center that can dispatch emergency medical services or contact family members/caregivers.
Some medical alert systems also have automated support features, such as detecting falls. In this case, the system can automatically notify emergency support, such as calling an ambulance to help an incapacitated person.
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How a Medical Alert System Works: 4 Basic Steps
Medical alert systems work by connecting wearables or standalone buttons with monitoring services that can assist in emergencies in four basic steps:
- The user presses a button on the medical alert system device. This can be a watch, bracelet or necklace.
- The push of a button connects the user to a monitoring service, which is usually a call center.
- The call center representative will then be able to communicate with the medical alert system user to identify the problem.
- If the issue requires further attention beyond what the representative and the user can discuss—for example, if the user is unresponsive or specifies that they need medical help—the representative can contact emergency medical services or emergency contacts (e.g., family members or neighbors) who will You can come and see that person.
For home medical alert systems, the communication device is typically wirelessly connected to a base station, which is a plug-in device with a two-way speaker. Additionally, some medical alert systems work with smart speakers to extend coverage.
The user can then communicate with the monitoring service through the speaker in an emergency. This communication is typically via landline, cellular, or in some cases Wi-Fi service, depending on factors such as the system and plan chosen by the user.
Some devices also have built-in microphones and speakers so you don’t have to be near a base station to communicate with a support representative. However, if the rep can’t hear you, there is usually a failsafe, such as automatically contacting emergency support. Some plans offer lockboxes so emergency support staff can easily get the keys to your home.
Some medical alert systems also work outside the home. These mobile systems also include wearables with help buttons that you can activate to get medical alerts. These mobile systems can use technologies such as GPS to send the user’s location to emergency medical services. This way, if a person is unsure of their exact location or unable to communicate due to a medical event, help can still arrive.
How Much Does a Medical Alert System Cost?
Subscriptions to medical alert systems typically cost around $20-30 per month. More expensive plans may be in the range of about $40-70 per month, which may include automatic fall detection, cellular coverage (so you don’t have to use a landline), or other products like a smartwatch for working away from home.
Some systems work without a subscription, such as connecting directly to emergency medical services. Or, you might set up smart speakers to help get in touch with emergency contacts or medical services, but these might not be backed up by the monitoring of a full-blown medical alert system.
Therefore, the cost of these types of non-subscription options is for hardware only and can range from about $30 to a few hundred dollars. With subscription services, however, the cost of the hardware is often bundled together, although that means the equipment is essentially rented, not purchased.
Some subscription services also charge a one-time activation fee. These can vary widely, but usually don’t exceed $100. There may also be shipping costs, although these tend to be nominal.
Remember, standard health insurance does not cover a medical alert system. However, private insurance companies may offer some coverage through Medicare Part C, so check with your insurance company.
Medical Alert Systems: Additional Considerations
When comparing medical alert systems, consider factors other than price and features. Consider issues such as call center quality (based on reviews of different services), cancellation policies, and program flexibility.
Not everyone wants to consider needing emergency medical services, but it is an important consideration. Getting to the hospital quickly can be a matter of life and death, so having a system that can dispatch an ambulance in an emergency can be critical. You may not always be able to call 911 yourself, so consider whether purchasing a medical alert system will make you or a loved one feel safer.
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